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Balaclavas, Neck Gaiters and Face Masks

A balaclava is an incredibly useful piece of gear to bring hiking or camping. It can be worn during the day in cool weather as a hat, face mask, or neck gaiter or at night as head covering to keep you extra warm in your sleeping bag.


Balaclavas come in many different styles and materials. My personal favorite is an Outdoors Research Wind Pro Balaclava which is wind proof and has a big hole for my face. This model is very flexible because I can adjust it in all kinds of different configurations depending on my warmth level and how much I’m sweating. I also own the OR Sonic Balaclava which provides even more coverage over my nose and mouth, with mesh breathing ports for extremely cold and windy conditions.

Balaclava Variations

If you don’t like wearing a balaclava, it’s possible to obtain a comparable level of insulation or facial protection by wearing a neck gaiter or a combination neck gaiter/face mask with a hat. I also do this, especially when I’m having issues with my glasses fogging up, because it gives me a little bit more control over thermal venting. When I wear a face mask, my preference is the Serius Neofleece Combo Scarf which contains neoprene, and like a wet suit, retains your body heat when it gets wet from your exhalations.

During the other three seasons of the year, I usually wear a Buff Bandana as a hat at night for extra warmth. During black-fly season, I’ll wear it during the day like a balaclava because wearing a bug net makes me dizzy. I used to spray my Buffs with permethrin, a contact insecticide, but Buff has recently started manufacturing Buffs with Insect Shield (permethrin is the active ingredient). The factory dipped Buffs remain effective through 70 washings vs. a half dozen if you spray on the permethrin yourself: definitely worth another $15.

Disclosure: The author owns all of the products reviewed here and purchased them using his own funds.

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  1. Last year I accepted that my hair was thin on top, and bought a good set of clippers. Now there is NO fuzz on top and a max of 1/4" on the side. Suddenly: no more part, no more gel, no more barbers, no more comb, no more bad hair days. Hair grooming is no longer an issue. This is really nice after a day in the backcountry and we head for the pub. I think the sleek head helps me to ski faster.

    That's the good news.

    The bad news is that I am amazed at how much heat is now lost from my pate. This morning my office is chilly – so I am wearing a balaclava. My wife likes the bedroom cold, so I have a balaclava by the bed. My favourite sweater for skiing has a hood. I am now a huge fan of hoods! I really feel my whole body warm after putting some insulation on my skull.

    BTW, I was a war baby (boomers, I am talking to you). All of my life no one was much interested in my life-discoveries. The boomers are 7 years behind me. I watched whatever discoveries were ignored in my time become boomer-passions by that huge cohort. Recommendation: buy futures in electric hair clippers.

  2. My wife and I wear hats and down vests in our house.I also wear hats to bed and stay much warmer. New England winters in an old draft house…

  3. I use a Balaclava whenever I go snowboarding they are also great when hiking in the winter.

  4. I consider my balaclava essential equipment not only for hiking but also my main focus which is cycling. I can ride semi comfortably in near freezing temps with bike bibs long sleeve jersey light gloves and balaclava. Minus headgear I'm in misery below 45 degrees. As a bonus the thicker balaclavas seem to make my 40 degree sleeping bag ample for my non extreme 2 and a half season use.

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